When the pandemic started in 2020, Candice Robillard’s plans to start dance classes got put on hold – like the rest of the world. But in September of that year, Valley Girls Dance was born.
“Our style is like commercial heels or commercial sneakers, which is what you see in music videos, concerts,” said Robillard.
Robillard has been dancing and cheerleading for most of her life and before Valley Girls, ran a dance studio in Edmonton where she says she fell in love with dancing in heels.
In 2017, Robillard said she decided to leave for the Comox Valley, and realized there wasn’t anything like Valley Girls at the time.
“I would literally go dance by myself in a gym… with a little speaker,” she said. “And then I would have friends on Facebook, be like, ‘Can I come dance with you?’ ”
It was this that sparked Robillard’s idea to start Valley Girls Dance. Valley Girls found a home at another local dance studio after Robillard had been posting dance videos throughout the first months of the pandemic.
“I had a girl message me and say, ‘hey, we’re starting a studio. Do you need somewhere to rent?’ So we ended up starting in September, when they opened, and we’ve been there ever since at JL Dance Project, just behind Value Village (in Courtenay).”
For Robillard, this studio is important because she grew up dancing and cheerleading but not always fitting the stereotype of a dancer.
“I always was so scared to go to a new class because I knew people would judge me first and then be like, ‘wow, she’s really good’,” Robillard said. “But what I learned from that is how it feels and what I wish an instructor would do or say or make me feel.”
She said a lot of classes will teach a movement, and offer an “easier” option for those who need it. Robillard’s approach at Valley Girls is the opposite.
“You automatically kind of feel less than when you’re like it’s obvious I can’t do the harder one and I’m doing the easier option,” she explained. “So my version is, ‘hey, we’re going to do this. But if you’re someone who wants to push a little harder…’ I’ll give the harder one as the second option so that people aren’t standing out as taking the easier route.”
Robillard said she wants everyone to know they deserve to dance regardless of their experience, age or body. Valley Girls has members from 18 to 62, and members of all shapes and sizes.
“It still makes me sad because I get messages who are like, ‘oh, I’m a bigger girl, can I come?’ It still makes me sad because dancing is so fun and everyone deserves to feel that. I just want everyone to feel beautiful and confident and they can come dance if they want to,” she explained.
Valley Girls has expanded beyond the Comox Valley, with classes now offered in Campbell River, and about 150 members between both cities.
Aside from classes, Valley Girls has two performance programs a year where they train for 12 weeks and learn two to three dances per class. They have one performance in December and one in April each year.
This summer Valley Girls will be offering cheerleading classes after Robillard saw a demand.
“It’s like NFL sideline cheer,” she said. “So basically it’s our style, kind of more feminine, sexy, if you will, but in sneakers. And they’ll have pom poms and we’ll go do a video shoot at a field.”
As for what’s next for Valley Girls, Robillard said she would love to expand.
“We’re really happy where we are right now, especially because it’s just me. It’s like the bigger I get, the more I have to do, try to keep up, and I don’t want to start spreading myself thin and have the experience lacking or classes lacking… I would love to have our own beautiful Valley Girl boutique kind of studio, but this town is tough to find space.”
Rollibard said the studio is at its maximum membership right now, and is open to all women and female-identifying individuals. She said there are a couple of men who dance in heels, but she limits it to people she knows well, in order to ensure the women feel comfortable in the space.